Tanzania opposition leader Freeman Mbowe says 'tortured' in custody

Tuesday August 24 2021

Chadema Chairman Freeman Mbowe in court. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


The leader of Tanzania's main opposition party, who is on trial on terrorism charges, said in court Monday that he had been tortured in custody and forced by police to make a statement, his lawyer said. 

Freeman Mbowe has been in detention since July 21 when he was arrested along with other senior Chadema party officials just hours before they planned to hold a forum to demand constitutional reform. 

The 59-year-old has been charged with terrorism financing and conspiracy in a case that has triggered concern among rights groups and Western nations about the state of democracy under Tanzania's new President Samia Suluhu Hassan.

Mbowe's lawyer Peter Kibatala said that when they appeared in court in Dar es Salaam on Monday, Mbowe and his three co-defendants accused prosecutors of reading trumped-up statements.

"They told the court that they were tortured and humiliated and forced to record such statements," Kibatala told journalists after the hearing. 

"These were not their voluntary statements."


The case against Mbowe and his co-accused is to be transferred to the High Court but no date has been set for a new hearing.

Hassan's government, citing Covid-19 regulations and security, last week warned foreign diplomats against turning up to court to follow the case without notifying the foreign ministry. 

The diplomats have instead been instructed to follow the case through the media.

Mbowe's arrest came five months after Hassan took office following the sudden death of her predecessor John Magufuli in March.

There had been hopes Hassan would bring about a new era of democracy after the increasingly autocratic rule of Magufuli, nicknamed the "Bulldozer" for his uncompromising style.

But Chadema leaders say the arrests of Mbowe and his colleagues reflect a deepening slide into "dictatorship."

They have accused the government of meddling in the case and want the court to dismiss the charges and declare a mistrial. 

Prosecutors say the allegations against Mbowe do not relate to the constitutional reform conference Chadema had planned to hold in the port city of Mwanza, but to alleged offences last year in another part of Tanzania. 

Chadema said prosecutors accuse Mbowe of conspiring to attack a public official, and giving 600,000 Tanzanian shillings ($260 / 220 euros) towards blowing up petrol stations and public gatherings and cutting down trees to block roads.